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Peru - the pleasure and the plane
Mark Wareham reports on the highs and lows of a trip to South America with his wife and two young children
I love flying. The further the better. Sealed in splendid isolation from the real world, you plunge on into the unknown, oblivious to any war, famine and pestilence occurring 38,000ft below. Your chief concerns are:
These three crop up in the same order every two hours until you land. Which means on an average flight to Australia you've put on a couple of kilos, seen enough rubbish films to keep you out of the video store for the next six months, and had a solid two nights' worth of kip. Fantastic. Away with your jetlag.
But then comes your big mistake. Or, let's be specific here, my big mistake. You get over-confident. Cocky, even. We'd talked about it for ages. And now it was time to go. To Peru. To visit my wife's family. Cost? An arm and a leg. But was that going to put us off? Not a chance.
Cannily, my wife had flown out a week or so ahead of me with Claudia, our soon-to-be one year-old. The journey had taken place in a dream-like trance, all 20 hours of it. She dimly recalled changing flights in Colombia – just about the only time their blissful slumber had been punctuated.
We followed, dutifully, father and three-year-old son, completely unprepared for the madness that was about to descend. Had I brought more than one book? No. More than one toy? No. Enough kiddie food? No. And so it went on, one after the other, a catalogue of parental incompetence. Change of clothes, Walkman, games, jigsaw? No, no, no, no.
Two hours into the flight, and the boy's not going to take it any more. He's up now, scrambling over my sleepy body and into the aisle. Oh that's good, there are a couple of little girls his age a few seats up. They give him chocolate. Lots. "That's enough, Lorenzo. You'll be sick." This Bordeaux's making me drowsy. I'm slipping in and out of sleeeeep. He's running around now, playing hide 'n' seek behind the hostesses' curtain with the two little girls. They're shrieking, being loud, having a ball. I gratefully fall back into the arms of my wine-induced coma.
A hostess is shaking my shoulder. "Sir, wake up please." She looks at me pitifully. I'm dribbling. "Some passengers are complaining about the noise. I'm afraid you'll have to return your child to his seat." Lorenzo, red-faced, chocolate daubed on his cheeks like war paint, stands behind her looking pleased with himself. Behind him, a severe-looking woman, her prematurely silver hair gathered in a bun, is admonishing me. "Really. Can't you keep them under control? It's just too much." She whirls round and marches back to her seat. I spy a chocolate smear on the side of her grey pleated skirt and smile.
The journey continued in much the same cheerful vein right into the next hemisphere. The flight had left London at 10am, and Lorenzo didn't so much as take 40 winks for the first 12 hours. Of course, he passed into a deep sleep just before we landed. Which meant that I had to stagger through transit at Bogota with a heavy bag over each shoulder and an unconscious 20kg child in my arms.
Having survived a brush with third-world politics, it was time to take the next logical step and show my son a harsher reality. When living in Peru, I had on occasions visited El Nazareno, one of the many shanty towns that squat on the dusty dunes circling Lima. Now we were returning, bearing gifts (pencils, toys, sweets) for the family of Giuliana, a little girl who was sponsored by my mother. As we bumped down the unmade road, I could see Lorenzo's eyes widening. This was "Three Little Pigs" country - some houses made of straw, some from sticks, and just a few dotted with bricks. But even the three little pigs hadn't had to use cardboard, unlike some of these desperate people.
We were given the royal treatment inside Giuliana's spartan shack - Coca Cola all round - and then posed for photos with her tiny mother who was late-30s going on 50, such were the rigours of her life, bringing up four kids alone, the father long since departed. I had wondered at the wisdom of taking my son into a potential health hazard such as this. But it was made worthwhile by the warmth of the reception given us as we toured the settlement, and none more so than in the school where we were mobbed as I struggled to give an impromptu English class. By the time we left, I had been transformed into some messianic figure, a trail of children in my wake, and Lorenzo surrounded by a sea of quizzical faces.
Naturally, the family couldn't continue in such rude health, and sure enough, on the penultimate day, our luck ran out. A trip outside the city to a sports club proved our undoing. The sun was much fiercer in these Andean foothills and so Lorenzo, pasty and delicate, was Factor 24-ed from head to toe. Claudia, robust and much darker, a Peruvian in all but passport, could make do with a sunhat, even if she wouldn't keep it on for more than two seconds. Before the day was out, she had sunstroke. And the 24-hour slog back to the UK loomed the next day.
This journey was far more fraught than the trifles of two weeks ago. While the eldest slept soundly most of the way, the baby alternately howled and whimpered for an entire day. By the time we changed flights at Bogota, we were worried enough to raise the airport's air ambulance service. My wife returned with a prescription - Claudia had apparently developed an allergy to the medicine she had been given the day before in Peru - and I was escorted from the transit area to the airport chemist by an official. But when we got there it was closing and they wouldn't let us in. "Why so early?", I asked. "Bank holiday," he explained. Of course it was.
The official volunteered to leave the airport and find a chemist, so he stung me for a ridiculous amount of dollars and I told him the plane left in an hour. Fully expecting never to clap eyes on him again, I returned to transit.
For hotel suggestions in Peru, go to South America in the where to go guide
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